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American Idol Top 5: Leaders Of The Rat Pack

Lyndsey Parker
Reality Rocks

This evening was Rat Pack Night on American Idol, a classy affair and all, which gave the remaining five Idols a chance to clean up real nice. That surely wouldn't be a challenge for the likes of Adam Lambert, who'd already proven he could rock a swanky suit and slicked-back pompadour, or for Matt Giraud, a man rarely seen without his cool-cat fedora hat. But what about casual hackeysacker Kris Allen or pink-tressed rebel girl Allison Iraheta? Or Danny Gokey, whose questionable past attire had included polar-expedition puffer coats?

And even more importantly, how would these singers--all under age 30--tackle songs from several generations ago and sound relevant in 2009?

Well, helping them out with that task tonight was surprise celebrity mentor Jamie Foxx, whom Ryan Seacrest described as a man that "transcends the boundaries of the entertainment industry." Yep, that's certainly true: ONLY Jamie Foxx could sing hip-hop songs about getting laydeez drunk on al-al-al-al-al-alcohol, make inappropriate remarks about underage Miley Cyrus, make his film debut in Booty Call, win an Oscar, AND play a classical musician in The Soloist, and get away with ALL of it. That's true "transcendence," right there. So if anyone could help the contestants make jazzy standards sound contemporary and cool, it was Foxx on Fox.

So up first was Kris Allen--who I will say right now, for the record, does clean up nice. The boy sure wears a suit well. He looked good tonight (the constant dog-whistle-decibel screams from the girlies in the crowd when he crooned "The Way You Look Tonight" was indication of that), and even more crucially, he sounded good. VERY good.

Jamie Foxx was in fact so impressed by Kris he declared during Kris's mentor session, "This dude is a dude I'll do a record with!" Kris seemed genuinely flattered, humbly saying he "couldn't measure up vocally" to the other contestants on the show--but he was wrong there. He CAN and DOES measure up. I agreed with Jamie that Kris's understatedness is his strength, and that it's a GOOD thing that he doesn't oversing every note and try to compete in what Jamie called the "Throat Olympics."

Randy Jackson and Kara DioGuardi echoed Jamie's high praise during their post-performance critiques, with Randy giving props for Kris's "mad nice vocals" and declaring it his "best performance to date," and Kara calling him "truly a dark horse" and raving about Kris's "impeccable phrasing, diction, and rhythms." Paula Abdul further gushed about Kris's "amazing transition from being the adorable boy-next-door to sophisticated gentleman." But of course Debbie Downer-ish Simon Cowell was the crabby voice of dissent, puzzlingly calling Kris's performance "a little wet" and "like taking a well-trained spaniel for a walk." (Um, okaaaay...) Simon then sternly added: "I didn't get the feeling from tonight that you can win this competition."

And the girlies BOOED.

Next up was this season's only remaining female, and one of my faves of either gender all season long, Allison Iraheta. And she cleaned up nice, too! Yes, her hair was as flamingly flamingo-pink as ever, but paired with her cute LBD (little black dress, duh), it totally worked. And she worked it out on her killer performance of "Someone To Watch Over Me," as well. During her mentor session, Jamie Foxx suddenly adopted an almost fatherly attitude, telling sweet teenaged Allison, "You're too young to be in love!" and instructing her to sing the song in an "innocent" manner dedicated to her watchful family. I personally found this ironic, given the recent X-rated and unprintable jokes Jamie cracked about Miley on SIRIUS Radio, but I suppose after that controversy he didn't want to take any chances by telling a 17-year-old to deliver any sort of "sexy" performance.

(Side note: Yes, Allison is SEVENTEEN now; she just celebrated her birthday. So that means the judges, who have a habit of constantly, incredulously pointing out Allison's tender age, have to remember she ain't 16 anymore. Paula may find this especially difficult.)

Well, Allison sure didn't sing that song like a 17-year-old. As usual, she performed like a seasoned veteran. And I dare say, her trademark husky vocals did lend a certain sexiness to the song, even if that was unintentional and even if Jamie Foxx wouldn't approve. Randy called Allison "the bomb" and told her, "You sing like Pink, but with 9,000 more octaves!" Kara, who was worried after Allison was inexplicably in the bottom three again last week, said tonight, "I ain't nervous for you anymore! You converted some new fans tonight! You proved you are not a one-trick pony, not just a rock chick...if that performance doesn't land you in the finals, I don't know what will."

Simon was, of course, not as confident in Allison's future, and openly questioned her self-belief, asking her directly if she thought she could win this thing. Allison answered yes, but perhaps a little too meekly, and Simon seemed unconvinced. He gave her a "7 out of 10" and told her: "I have a horrible feeling you could be in trouble tonight." (Way to bring down the mood, Simon!) I really hope Simon was wrong in this case.

Singing third was an even darker dark horse than either Kris or Allison, this season's Wild Card/Judges' Save pet project, Matt Giraud. The good news was, Matt once studied jazz in college, thus making him uniquely qualified for this week's challenge. The bad news was...well, Matt got a B in jazz class. And a B wouldn't cut it at this late stage in the AmIdol game, of course.

Anyway, Matt sang "My Funny Valentine"--what Randy called "one of the hardest songs to sing EVER"--and his whole look, voice, and vibe was perhaps better-suited for the genre that any of the top five finalists. Matt gave a nice, mellow, stool-seated performance, and he ended very strong, but overall it was a little too period-piece and literal for me, like actually watching someone from that era instead of a rising new star of 2009. Randy and Kara were similarly unimpressed (Randy gave Matt a "6 out of 10" and Kara griped that she didn't feel Matt was "emotionally connected" to the material), but the exact reason why I wasn't that jazzed about Matt's jazz performance was why Simon dug Matt tonight. "I thought it was the only believable, authentic song I've heard tonight," Simon said. "I can tell that you love the music. It was almost Nat King Cole-type phrasing there. I thought you were absolutely brilliant!"

Oh, that Simon...he always keeps me, and everyone else, guessing. He's raked Matt over the coals for what I thought were excellent performances, and tonight he fawns over Matt. You just can never tell with Cowell. I personally think Matt's performance earned just a B, maybe a B+.

Up next was Danny Gokey, who I feel until tonight has been coasting for a looooonnnng time. Everyone but me seems to adore him, but I've never quite grasped his appeal, and I've thought all his performances were way too samey. I've seen no growth, no progression, no diversity. Until tonight, that is.

While Danny was rehearsing "Come Rain Or Come Shine" with Jamie Foxx, Jamie got right "up in his grill," like a foot away from his face (don't worry, Jamie assured America's viewers that Danny's breath was springtime-fresh) to pull a raw, non-robotic performance out of him. And I guess there was a method to Foxx's too-close-for-comfort madness, as the result was Danny's far-and-away best performance of the season. All season long I've gotten the feeling that Idol producers have tried to push Danny in a country direction (probably because there's been no real straight-up country singer this year), but after tonight I think Danny ought to go the jazz route instead. His voice and stage demeanor were perfect for this song, and when he finally cut loose at end and got all scatty and bluesy, it was best I'd ever seen him.

The judges largely agreed with me that new-school jazz is the best genre for Danny, with Randy saying, "You are the only one I've heard so far tonight who could actually make an album of songs like that." Kara added: "What I've been missing from you all season is that Rat Pack swagger. You had swag tonight! That was the most creative you've been. I'm starting to think you could do standards!"

Well, yes, Danny did have swagger. But no one in the Idol corner has swagga like Lambert. Adam Lambert sang last, in the "pimp spot," wearing a white pimp suit in fact, doing the Nina Simone/Michael Buble favorite "Feeling Good." And to borrow a line from Paula's critique, Adam "made me feel better than good." His version was similar to the rocked-up version by all-powerful English power-trio Muse (Adam's multi-octave vocal style has always reminded me of Muse's Matt Bellamy, come to think of it), and, to borrow a line from Jamie Foxx this time, it "knocked everybody's head off." Adam definitely had a moment here, crooning the song while gallantly descending an illuminated red staircase.

(Side note: Ever notice how the Idol lighting and set-design crews pull out all the stops for Adam? The others practically perform under a bare lightbulb in front of a brick wall, while Adam gets supercool mood lighting and stage props. Not that I'm complaining, of course...just observing.)

Randy called Adam's performance "a little theatrical," to which Simon amusingly and correctly retorted, "That's like complaining that a cow moos" (sooo true--theatricality is what Adam Lambert is ALL about). But Kara appreciated Adam's flamboyance, calling him "confusing and shocking and sleazy and superb and way over-the-top...but I dunno, I like you!"

Of course she likes Adam. He rules! Frankly, the only "confusing and shocking" thing about him would be if he did not win this season. As Paula put it tonight, this season is "like watching the Olympics and he's Michael Phelps." (Did she mean the Throat Olympics?)

So who gets the gold medals tonight? Well, in my opinion, the best performances of the evening came from Adam and (now THIS confuses and shocks me) Danny. And I have a feeling my opinion will be shared by many voters tonight. So that leaves Matt, Allison, and Kris in the bottom three with the collective bronze.

Kris has yet to be in the bottom this season, which makes me think he'll be safe this week, especially since he gave such a knockout Rat Pack performance. Allison was great too, and though she's had near-brushes with elimination before, I do think it will help her this week that a) she gave a personable and un-stoner-like Ryan Seacrest interview, b) she just celebrated her birthday, c) she cleaned up nice, and d) she is the last girl standing at this point. So that means I predict that Matt Giraud will go home this week. He's been voted off TWICE already by the public, and I just think his number is finally up, despite the fact that he received raves from Simon tonight. I have a hunch that Rat Pack Week is the week that Matt will at long last pack it in.

Tune in tomorrow night to see if I'm right!

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